(Not really a serious response to B.Sterling’s new aesthetics essay…)
Paul Klee is always quoted as saying “A line is a dot that went for a walk.”, but what if we were to take this same line (originally a dot) and extend its behavior both in time and in space, digitize it, reverse its origination to a pixel and fling it into cyberspace and back into the material world?
Are you dizzy yet?
Welcome to the new aesthetic!
So what is the new aesthetic?
Wrong question, wrong phrasing.
We cannot ask what the new aesthetic is because the question is meaningless, it is not a ‘what’. It is not an ‘is’, it is not even a process, and thus cannot be wrong.
So what can we say about it?
We might wax poetic about this strange perception of slow-moving pixels, we may if we so desire allow it to transport us into a flow of images, of codes, transposed and woven into other worlds, not originally their own. But then what?
Like spiders we weave our multiple lives with machines, multiple machines, that see differently, code differently, translate differently, in the process making us different.
A mutual transformation occurs when machine code and brain code meet, both are rewritten to meet a need nobody cares for, not the machine and not the brain.
Wait, there is no contradiction here, everybody is right, every machine is correct in its interpretation, all these transformations are motions, modular, molar, rhizomatic.
New aesthetic can be described as a manner of predictive sight, just like the brain sciences moving to ‘predictive neuroscience’ using: “data mining state-of-the-art informatics tools, which increase the likelihood that it will be possible to predict much of the fundamental structure and function of the brain without having to measure every aspect of it.” (See: Data mining opens the door to predictive neuroscience)
Reality is only a platform
In a very real sense the new aesthetic (#NA) can maybe best be seen in the mixed and mashed videos made after Google presented its next generation Google glasses, last week.
It is it not so much the hacking of the promising utopia of efficiency Google presented as the ironic twist these videos presented. Part commentary part spoof, the web reacted strongly, with love and desire, with irony and sarcasm. (the best burlesque-Jon Stewart on Google’s glasses: Like people peeing in your eye)
To my eyes the way to understand these strange cognitive effects of a technology not quite here, is through the prism of mental accommodation, which is in a sense what the new aesthetic, I think, tries to find a parking lot for. Moreover, I think that what the new aesthetic is concerned with is the way we can embed possible futures as memories in the now of our immediate awareness.
It is as if the recreation of authenticity or maybe the re-invention of what the authentic and original really means is the self-chosen task of the new aesthetic.
Combine Google glasses with the new aesthetic movement, merge machine reading technologies with hyperconnectivity; what do you get? In a sense a new Dada, though not quite situationist, not quite avant-guard, not quite ironic really, and maybe not so new to most of us.
The New Aesthetic
Over at Wired.com’s Beyond the Beyond blog, Bruce Sterling published a Tolstoyan essay entitled “An Essay on the New Aesthetic”. If you are into the new Aesthetic Movement you should read it, it is both enlightening and sobering.
BS says that: “The New Aesthetic is one thing among a kind: it’s like early photography for French Impressionists, or like silent film for Russian Constructivists, or like abstract-dynamics for Italian Futurists. The New Aesthetic is image processing for British media designers. That’s more or less what it is, and although it belongs to a small group of creatives right now, we have every reason to take it, and its prospects, seriously.”
And later BS says the New Aesthetic concerns itself with “an eruption of the digital into the physical.” That eruption was inevitable. It’s been going on for a generation. It should be much better acculturated than it is.
However, to really understand the new aesthetic movement, if movement it is, you should check what James Bridle at Booktwo.org is doing. I suggest watching Bridle’s video presentation from Web Directions South, in Sydney, Australia, called “waving at the machines”:
The point of the new aesthetic, irrespective of its avant-guardian perspectivism, is to deal with the here and the now in an almost post-post (xN) Dada:
‘8bit representations as a kind of insistent retro-futurism’? Machine vision? Not so sure.
Is the digitized world bleeding into our material world? Of course, we are surrounded by digitization – in the talk Bridle calls it ‘eruptions of the digital into the physical world’ and Bruce quotes him.
I disagree, it is not erupting but slowly permeating the world, it is not disrupting but metamorphosing.
Bleeding, Weaving, the new Code of Sight
Is digital life for everybody? Yes of course, the point however is that whilst the recent technologies allow us to see things in a different fashion, not everyone can carry Bridle’s insight. Admirable as the work of these artists is, even though the commonality of Google maps is truly ubiquitous, I think the experience Bridle speaks about is, to put it mildly, quite uncommon.
It is uncommon in the kind of appreciation and perspective his mind brings forth. In a fashion I see a deep companionship between the work of Bridle and that of Amber Case in Cyborg Anthropology, the connection in one word is: bleeding.
Both Amber Case and James Bridle see a bleeding of worlds into worlds, a meshing of the digital and the virtual one into and with each other.
In a fashion these two modern thinkers bring a sensation of magic to our immediacy, in order to make it more comprehensible to the rest of us. They construct a sort of ‘code of sight’ through which the modern realities we are embedded in can maybe make sense.
The creators project has created a fantastic and highly recommended reading, of responses by bright thinkers to Bruce Sterling’s new aesthetic essay. The most salient, to my eyes, is WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A 21ST CENTURY THING By Greg Borenstein:
In making this list, Sterling privileges the visible objects of New Aesthetics over the invisible and algorithmic ones. New Aesthetics is not simply an aesthetic fetish of the texture of these images, but an inquiry into the objects that make them. It’s an attempt to imagine the inner lives of the native objects of the 21st century and to visualize how they imagine us.
New Aesthetics is not simply an aesthetic fetish of the texture of these images, but an inquiry into the objects that make them. It’s an attempt to imagine the inner lives of the native objects of the 21st century and to visualize how they imagine us.
To which I can only answer with a kind of poem I just wrote that tries weirdly enough to do just that, imagining how machines imagine us:
Kinetic, resisting sadness, altering all
Never alone again
Mechanical joy, undefined
Not he, not she, alive
Context, a friend
You sing, I sync
You see, I screen
You drift, I shift
You rule, I code
And whilst you minimize I digitize
Technology is not something that happens
We are the gates to your transgressive loves
We are the code
(Of course I am aware that trying to achieve a comic lyricism that renders machine code into poetry is not very Dada, still it was a fun though probably futile exercise in poetic new aesthetics)
Luminant Point Arrays is a series of photographs by Stephan Tillmans. They show tube televisions in the moment they are switched off. The television picture breaks down and creates a structure of light. (via TodayTomorrow.net for an extended collection see The new Aesthetic)
Boundless to bound and back
So yes, it is true that computers are looking at us and we look at them, we construct these creatures, and make no mistakes, creatures they are, awesome and fascinating, but different.
But where is the aesthetic? Probably in the interactivity emerging from humans and machines, working in tandem, not so much to create as to allow a new reality. This allowance I see as redrawing a line, already blurring, not between real and virtual, but between dimensions of virtualities.
Dimensions of virtualities riddled with Dada machines, and digitized situationism, open and multithreaded, using reality as the original platform, not unlike the dot of Paul Klee, or indeed the Pixels of James Bridle.
I leave you with a quote from Craig Mod, creator of the Flipboard app:
Abstractly, you can think about going from digital to physical as going from boundless to bounded. A space without implicit edges to one composed entirely of edges.
And what I consider an aspect of the new aesthetic that really really pleases me:
I have, it goes without saying, much more to say about the new aesthetic,but it will wait for a more mature moment.